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Inventing the Internet

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This sophisticated history is the best account so far published of the unpredictable and turbulent evolution of the Internet. With its broad international context, the book will be of value to makers and users of the global communications network, as well as to science and technology policy makers. -- Martin Campbell-Kelly, Reader in Computer Science, University of Warwick, UK

About the Author

Janet Abbate is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Virginia Tech and the author of Inventing the Internet (MIT Press, 1999).


The prehistory of the InternetÄmeaning the period including Gopher and WAIS but before the World Wide WebÄis often recounted among wonks but unknown to most others. Abbate, a history lecturer at the University of Maryland, traces the conversion of the ARPANET, a project of the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency created to allow scientists to run computers remotely, to the World Wide Web, an application created by a Swiss CERN physicist in the early 1990s for transmitting sound and pictures along with text, with a number of stages along the way. From the opening discussion of "packet switching," a major innovation in information exchange, Abbate makes it clear that "technical standards can be used as social and political instruments," and that hardware and software architecture is as much a product of social formations as the other way around. ARPANET was created at the height of the Cold War so that military communications could be maintained in the event of nuclear exchange, but the scientists who created it, in true Kuhnian fashion, used a loose set of ideas about end user-driven computing to overturn conventional wisdom. The book, firmly academic, has the feel of an extremely well-written doctoral dissertation and is thus unable to avoid being freighted with the acronyms and the inherent complexity of its subject. While most readers won't care about CCITT standards or how TCP/IP works, they will find themselves at least curious about the people who created them. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Thoroughly wonderful. -David Warsh, Boston Globe

Abbate (history, Univ. of Maryland) provides what may be the finest extended work on Internet history and development to date. With an eye for the social constructs that shaped the Internet, she explores the Cold War genesis of ARPANET, created by the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, and its technological successors. Abbate makes much of the military origins of the earliest computer networks and of issues surrounding packet-switching technology. She considers major playersÄnot just institutions but people like Paul Baran, Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Lawrence Roberts, and Donald DaviesÄand pays special attention to the astonishing way in which ARPANET eventually metamorphosed into an egalitarian paradigm of commercial and civilian interaction by the 1990s. Though the constant use of parenthetical notation is distracting, and a much-needed glossary is sadly omitted, this book is useful for anyone studying information technology. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.ÄDayne Sherman, Southeastern Louisiana Univ., Hammond Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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